Whatever you’ve heard about Nioh 2 being tough was probably an understatement. This game will destroy you, humiliate you, and likely make you swear it off completely on several occasions. If this sounds like an irresistible invitation, then the Complete Edition is the week-long party you’re dying to attend.
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Release date: February 5th, 2021
Price: $49.99 via Steam
When playing Nioh 2, it’s difficult to not think about the principals of Jujutsu. Developed throughout Japan’s Feudal era, the martial art was intended for the underhanded, who faced off against opponents who were either out-armed or armored. Trading blows with an advantaged attacker was a losing proposition. So, practitioners learned to use an attacker’s own energy against him, rather than attempting to oppose it directly.
In Nioh 2, this philosophy is evident when using a technique called the Burst Counter, which builds on gaming’s time-honored parry. When opponents glow red, it means they are about to launch an attack so powerful that it will often one-shot you into oblivion. When you first start playing the game, the crimson aura is immensely intimidating, and nerves can often thwart any attempt at survival. But trigger the Burst Counter at just the right time, and you’ll cause your opponent to squander a huge amount of Ki, giving you an opportunity to dish out damage.
Inversion, Momentum, and the Art of the Dodge
Once you master the timing, you’ll feel like a true Sengoku-era badass, waiting for just the right moment to invert the momentum of the fight. Having the patience and confidence to wait for that split second opportunity is a definite confidence booster. Once you get the timing down, those seemingly insurmountable fights become almost manageable. There are three different type of Burst Counters (Brute, Feral, and Phantom) in the game and learning which is the most effective against specific bosses makes for an intriguing exercise.
Ki is Nioh 2’s interpretation of stamina and regulates everything from your Quick and Strong attacks to Guards and Dodges. Much like the Burst Counter, a Ki Pulse can turn the tide of battle. When a blue aura converges on your character, it’s possible to regain some of the energy with a well-time press of a shoulder button. Momentum, developer Team Ninja reminds us, is an imperative element of battle. Miss a single opportunity and all too often, your character will also lose the battle.
But that’s not the only incorporation of martial art-style wisdom in the game. Ever since 1987’s Mega Man, we’ve been harnessing the powers of defeated foes against other succeeding adversaries. With Nioh 2, this is conveyed through Soul Cores, which reflect the abilities (and therefore, knowledge) of rival yokai. Dropped by defeated foes, these not only provide assistive effects like increasing the rate of Ki recovery, but also provide special attacks once they are purified at a local shrine. In Nioh, strength comes from defeated foes, and each adversaries is a learning opportunity who can also rip you part if you let them.
“You’re Never Gonna Keep Me Down”
But Nioh 2 isn’t just an encapsulation of fighting philosophy and it’s fairly easy to overlook the game’s inspirations when you’re getting brutalized by a menagerie of massive monstrosities. Like most games modeled after Souls formula, success stems from recognizing the small ‘tells’ of each opponent. ‘Reading’ foes in fundamental and learning how to respond to each animated gesture, movement, or visual signal is often the difference between life and death.
Just like the original release, the challenge level in Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition is sky high. You’ll die hundreds of times, only to get pick yourself back up again like that old song by Chumbawamba. A sense of dogged perseverance stems from the game’s control scheme. Much like Team Ninja’s best efforts, play is persistently responsive. Every life-saving guard or dodge is immediate, which is crucial because survival hinges on split-second reactions.
Before your 50+ hour trek is complete, counters will be instinctual. You’ll emerge from Nioh 2 a different kind of player than when you came in. But that’s not to say the game is for everyone. Some people flourish when presented with a towering challenge, while others have no patience for absolute mastery. If you identify with the latter, there’s no shame in shirking Nioh 2’s challenge. You’ll save yourself a good amount of cash and a lot of frustration by sitting this one out.
Layers and Layers of Systems
But those who savor these kind of masochist gauntlets will relish Nioh 2’s nuances. While some might look at all the systems and accuse the game of bloat, each component adds lets you develop your own style, rather than forcing a specific kind of play. There are sixteen different types of weapons, each with their distinctive attributes from ranges, speed, and power. Pleasingly, you’re not locked into a single armament, with your character able to carry and switch between two weapons. Later, you’ll be able to change loadouts, but given the presence of weapon-specific tech trees, it’s difficult to not grow accustomed to your current toolset. Additional distinction is found in Nioh 2’s stances, which variance in weapon speed and strength. Yes, at times, the game can feel like a samurai simulation.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s even more variation with the presence of the Yokai Shift mechanic, which replaces the Living Weapon system of the inaugural game. Here, you chose Guardian Spirit (more choices!) takes possession of your body, permitting players to take on three different forms. The last part of the puzzle is the game’s loot system, where nearly every item in the game has its stats, which can be improved upon at the local blacksmith.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for a Bit of Help
Invest enough time in the loot business, and you’ll eventually get enough of a stat boost to provide an edge in battle. But it’s never a panacea. No matter how great your loadout is, you’ll still have to bring exactitude to each and every showdown. Naturally, as the game endures, the margin for error diminishes. Another assistive feature is the ability to receive help from AI-controlled characters. They’ll fight to the death or until a prescribed timer runs out, which is great for getting the attention of a tough boss. But you can use them indefinitely, with summoning controlled by the number of Ochoko Cups you’re carrying.
Although Nioh 2 favors action over exposition, you’ll find some stimulating storytelling across the main game as well as the trio of DLC included with The Complete Edition. The Tengu’s Disciple, Darkness in the Capital, and The First Samurai do more than flesh out the narrative, with endgame modes, weapons, skills, and a few other goodies. Collectively, there’s a wealth of substance and if you’re a fan of the Souls-type play, the package could provide at least two work-weeks of masochistic enjoyment.
Save for the presence of the on-screen mouse pointer, Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition makes for a respectable PC port. While the visuals are very much in line with the original PlayStation iteration, the Steam version extends the ability to tweak graphical settings for things such as Ambient Occlusion, Dynamic Reflections, and Shadows as well as support for Ultrawide monitors. Expectedly, performance is proficient, even on midrange systems. With a i7 and RTX 2060-powered rig, Nioh 2 delivered fluid sixty frames-per-second output at 1080p, without a hint of wavering. Play with on a beefier system and you’ll be able to take advantage of the same 120fps performance as the PlayStation 5 version. Just remember to turn off vsync in the NVIDIA control panel.
Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition is more than just the definitive version of Team Ninja’s hectic action game. It’s an experience that will test your mettle and if you’re lucky enough to make it through, offers even more outrageously challenging trials. But it’s a fascinating trek, not just for the assortment of yokai that blend different species in nightmarish ways. No, Nioh 2 is also captivating because of the incorporation the tenets of martial art philosophy into its play. Sure, there’s a bit of risk/reward in most action titles, but few are as meticulously thought out as well as this one.
Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition was played on PC
with review code provided by the publisher